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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C. McMullen Jr.
Dragonslayer
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DRAGONSLAYER - 1981
USA Release: June 26, 1981
Disney Productions, Paramount Pictures
Rating: USA: PG

A group of travelers, seemingly led by a young boy, come to the decrepit castle, Kragenmoor, at night.


Trailer Voice-Over by Percy Rodrigues

The Ancient Sorcerer, Ulrich lives there. Ulrich (Ralph Richardson: THE GHOUL [1933], THE RETURN OF BULLDOG DRUMMOND, THINGS TO COME [1936], THE FALLEN IDOL, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?, FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY, ROLLERBALL, WATERSHIP DOWN, TALES FROM THE CRYPT [1972], THE TIME BANDITS) is rather decrepit himself, but in his vast knowledge and power Ulrich carries a deprecating sense of humor.

Another thing he carries at this late stage in his life, is an apprentice named Galen (Peter MacNicol: GHOSTBUSTERS II, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, ROSWELL, DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT). Both are protected from outside riff raff by the servant / retainer, Hodge (Sydney Bromley: NIGHT CREATURES, DIE MONSTER DIE!, PREHISTORIC WOMEN, ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), who gives the travelers the bum's rush.

However, the travelers have come a long way and are not about to turn around and go back.

Ulrich whips up a foretelling trance spell to see why they've come and why they would stubbornly challenge a Sorcerer. What he sees in his magics stills him in his place.

TRIVIA

DRAGONSLAYER was the first feature film for actors Peter MacNicol and Caitlin Clarke, and both were given the lead roles.

Ulrich allows the travelers to come inside castle Kragenmoor, gives them a bit of a show, to show who is boss, and gets down to business. He knows why they're here, why they're desperate, and why they won't return empty handed.

According to the young man who leads them, Valerian (Caitlin Clarke: THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS), their kingdom of Urland is terrorized on two sides. On one side by an ancient dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative, who Ulrich knows well, and on the other by their King, Casiodorus Rex (Peter Eyre), who impotently rules by appeasing the dragon twice a year with the sacrifice of a young virgin.

Ulrich: "Your king has made a pact with a Monster!"

Ulrich is taken aback by the evidence the travelers have brought, and even they don't know what they possess. When Ulrich sees that the Dragon claw they've brought him is really a tooth, he knows he's out of his depth.

He goes down a long list of other sorcerers and wizards, younger than he, who would be better suited for the task, only to be told that they are all dead.

This is the last Dragon and Ulrich is the last Sorcerer.

As the travelers prepare to leave the next day, with Ulrich and his retinue in tow, they find they've been tracked by the King's Captain of the Guard, Tyrian (John Hallam: THE WICKERMAN, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, FLASH GORDON, LIFEFORCE). Nothing would make Tyrion happier than to see the dragon slain, but all who have tried, have died, and the dragon made it worse for the people of Urland for their affrontery.

Tyrian: "So before you go stirring things up, show me what you can do."

Ulrich creates the test, Tyrian agrees, and Ulrich falls dead in apparent failure.

Of course, it's the nature of Fantasy, even dark fantasy - hell, especially dark fantasy - that the good guy Sorcerer / Wizard never actually dies by the first apparent death. This is so tediously old school from Gandalf in THE LORD OF THE RINGS to Obie Wan Kenobie in Star Wars to Merlin in EXCALIBER and on and on and on.

This is such a given in fact that the studios felt no hesitancy in showing plenty of trailer clips of Ulrich that clearly are happening after he dies. Something the audience will catch immediately upon his death in the first 10 minutes of the movie.

Writer / Director Matthew Robbins (WARNING SIGN, MIMIC, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, 7 KHOON MAAF, CRIMSON PEAK), working with Hall Barwood (WARNING SIGN), created a smart and quotable legend. DRAGONSLAYER went against all expectations with both a hero and heroine that in Hollywood terms, were far from handsome, dashing, and beautiful.

Galen has the heart of a brave warrior but is physically weak. Valerian looks like a young man instead of a beautiful woman. Yet unlike GAME OF THRONES where every character looks like a Supermodel version of an average human, Galen and Valerian look entirely in place among their fellow villagers in this tale of a small, lost, backwoods kingdom.

Tyrian, the presumptive bad guy, becomes less bad as the story progresses and you learn what all he has lived through, the horrors he has witnessed, and being brutally defeated by it all, is willing to kill anyone who could threaten to destroy what little is left.

Tyrian doesn't dare hope for a savior anymore because all previous saviors were slaughtered and every attempt to defeat Vermithrax has only resulted in the dragon taking its anger out by razing entire villages and their people to ash. He's not about to let another outsider cause the slaughter of hundreds more and Urland has become something of a magnet, for those hoping to make a name for themselves by defeating a monster they don't really believe exists.

In fact, no sooner does Galen come to Urland than a pretentious Holy Man, Brother Jacopus (Ian McDiarmid: THE AWAKENING, SLEEPY HOLLOW, Star Wars' Senator Palpatine/Emperor) arrives as well, all promises, preaching, and praying to a new god which will defeat the devil that defeats the villagers. It's obvious that Brother Jacopus thinks the dragon is village superstition and not reality.

Now to address the Gore factor...

Yes, in 1981 when families went to this PG rated movie from Disney, with promises of puppet effects by famed Muppeteer, Jim Henson, the last thing they expected was seeing young girls scream in terror and agony in body burning close-ups, or bloody corpses having their limbs ripped apart by dragons.

To hardcore Horror fans, such imagery is pretty mild, but DRAGONSLAYER wasn't promoted as Horror - not even Dark Fantasy (though it certainly is).

Disney and Paramount claimed that DRAGONSLAYER had an estimated $18 million budget in 1981 dollars. If so there must have been some wildly overpaid producers or lots of cocaine on the set, because you certainly don't see that budget on the screen.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which came out in the same year and was shot on various continents, had the same estimated budget, and it LOOKS like it.

EXCALIBER also came out in 1981 and had an estimated $11 million budget. EXCALIBER, like RAIDERS, also looks expensive.

DRAGONSLAYER is an entertaining movie and gets lots of audience love, but definitely looks low budget, as its a low budget movie about an impoverished kingdom.

Why Disney and Paramount never gave DRAGONSLAYER its due is anyone's guess, but you should have a great Family night with it.

Four Shriek Girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Dragonslayer (1981) on IMDb
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